October 02, 2009

October 2nd, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Friday, October 2, 2009

A new study looked at student performance in all 50 states since 2002, when No Child Left Behind Act took effect. The focus: achievement gaps for minority and low-income students.
By Amanda Paulson/The Christian Science Monitor

The news from a major new education study is encouraging: Student achievement is going up, and the gaps in test scores between subgroups – such as between African-Americans and whites – are closing across all grade levels and subjects. The study, released Thursday by the Center on Education Policy (CEP), examines student performance in all 50 states since 2002, when the No Child Left Behind Act took effect. It paid particular attention to the achievement gaps for minority and low-income students. The report focused on "trend lines" – for Latino students in fourth-grade reading, for instance, or for low-income students in high school math – and examined the gaps between lines. The gaps narrowed in 74 percent of all trend lines the researchers examined, most often because the gains made by lower-performing groups outpaced those made by the top-performing group. (more...)

By Greg Toppo/USA TODAY

The USA’s largest teachers union will encourage local chapters to ignore contract provisions that in the past have kept school districts’ best teachers out of schools that serve mostly poor and minority students. Testifying Tuesday before the House education committee, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said the union, which represents about 3.2 million teachers and other workers, will ask local affiliates to draw up memoranda of understanding with local school districts that would “waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers.” Van Roekel said the move is part of the union’s “Priority Schools” campaign that will also encourage “the most accomplished teachers-members” to start their teaching careers in high-needs schools, remain there or transfer there. In the past, NEA has come under fire from critics for supporting contracts that allow experienced teachers with more seniority to transfer to schools that serve more middle-class children.” (more…)

By Stephen Sawchuk/Education Week

Lawmakers and teacher spokesmen had a spirited exchange here this week on the equitable distribution of effective teachers, illuminating the contours of a debate that will likely continue as Congress revisits the issue. Differing opinions about incentive-pay programs, the role of test scores in pay and evaluation, and how prescriptive the federal government should be in seeking to boost teacher effectiveness were aired at a House hearing. It came as the upcoming renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and implementation of the economic-stimulus law are helping to spur such debate. Improving the distribution of effective teachers to schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students should be a top federal priority, lawmakers agreed. “It’s stunning that we’re still discussing this topic with this level of engagement in 2009,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, which held the hearing. “This is not a mystery. (more…)

By Robert Tomosho/Wall Street Journal

With the Obama administration trying to turn around failing schools, the nation’s largest teachers’ union will ask its local bargaining units to waive contract language that might hamper school districts from staffing troubled schools with highly qualified teachers. For the National Education Association, the announcement represents a major shift away from some of its traditional stands regarding teacher staffing. Some observers, however, expressed caution about whether it will result in significant change. School administrators long have complained that collective-bargaining pacts often require them to fill job openings based on seniority, leading experienced teachers to transfer out of low-performing, high-poverty schools as soon as they can find an opening elsewhere in a district. Many union agreements also bar districts from using merit pay or other incentives to persuade their best teachers to staff these schools. (more…)

By Richard Whitmire and Andrew J. Rotherham/Wall Street Journal

Quick: Which newspaper in recent editorials called teachers unions "indefensible" and a barrier to reform? You’d be excused for guessing one of the conservative outlets, but it was that bastion of liberalism, the New York Times. A month ago, The New Yorker—yes, The New Yorker—published a scathing piece on the problems with New York City’s "rubber room," a union-negotiated arrangement that lets incompetent teachers while away the day at full salary while doing nothing. The piece quoted a principal saying that union leader Randi Weingarten "would protect a dead body in the classroom." Things only got worse for the unions this past week. A Washington Post editorial about charter schools carried this sarcastic headline: "Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased." And the Times weighed in again Monday, calling a national teachers union "aggressively hidebound." (more…)

By Libby Quaid/Associated Press

An internal watchdog at the Education Department says states are using money from the economic stimulus to plug budget holes instead of boosting aid for schools. President Barack Obama did not intend for state lawmakers to simply cut state education spending and replace it with stimulus dollars. But Congress made that tough to enforce, and the Education Department’s inspector general said in a memo Thursday that some states are doing it. That means instead of getting extra help to weather tough times, school districts and colleges could wind up with the same level of state aid or with cuts, even as local tax revenues plummet. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said some states are flouting the president’s wishes. (more…)

Blog by Valerie Strauss/Washington Post

*Sixty-four percent of Americans favor public charter schools–15 percent more than did five years ago. But many don’t understand what these schools actually are. *Almost three out of four Americans favor merit pay for teachers–with student academic achievement, administrator evaluations and advanced degrees the three most favored criteria. *Seven out of 10 Americans would like a child of theirs to teach in the public schools as a career–the highest such rating in three decades. These are some of the findings in the 41st annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools. It was published in Kappan, the magazine of Phi Delta Kappa International, an organization for professional educators. The results revealed some changes over time–and some confusion among Americans about basic issues in public education–including the nature of charter schools, which are publicly funded but permitted to operate outside the bureaucracy of the school system. (more…)

Also Noted for Friday, October 9, 2009:

Blog by Howard Blume/Los Angeles Times

The panel that oversees school construction in Los Angeles is poised to pass a resolution asking for the return of the official who heads the nation’s largest school building effort and for a reversal of decisions that apparently led to his departure. The Bond Oversight Committee reached its decision by consensus at a Wednesday special session and will formally vote on the resolution at its regular October meeting, said chair David Crippens. The hastily called special meeting was in response to the weekend resignation of Guy Mehula, chief facilities executive of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Mehula has managed the $20-billion construction and modernization program that is paid for by local and state voter-approved bonds. The construction program was set up to be independent of the school system bureaucracy, both to professionalize its operation and to insulate its work from both internal and external political pressure. (more…)

The schools were selected based on the results of the latest Academic Performance Index that offers a complex view of incremental improvements of local public schools.
By Paul Aranda Jr./Eastern Group Publications

Three local Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools have been identified as “Focus Schools” that could eventually lead to outside operators such as charter or nonprofit agencies gaining control of the campuses. LAUSD Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines announced on Sept. 25 that Garfield High School, Lincoln High School and Burbank Middle School are among 12 existing schools and 24 new schools selected to participate in the initial “Public School Choice” process as the District sets forth its efforts to implement a hotly debated reform measure passed on Aug. 25. The 12 existing schools were selected partly based on the latest data released by the state that measures academic performance. The results of the 2009 Accountability Progress Report (APR) by the California Department of Education showed that the District’s overall 2009 Academic Performance Index (API) score jumped 13 points, a single point shy of the statewide average. (more…)

Board president says layoffs likely if voters do not approve parcel tax.
By André Coleman/Pasadena Weekly

South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge voters approved property tax increases in June to channel $1.7 million and $900,000, respectively, into cash-strapped local schools. Now Pasadena Unified School District officials have hired the same political consultant that those cities worked with to help pass a parcel tax aimed at closing an expected $18.5 million budget deficit and avoiding possible layoffs and school closures. The Pasadena Board of Education voted Sept. 22 to pay Tramutola LLC of Oakland $12,000 over the next three months to help evaluate the feasibility of a parcel tax. Their work will include examining the PUSD’s needs and priorities, then working with a pollster to develop a questionnaire and conduct a survey of 400 voters, according to district spokesperson Binti Harvey. Representatives of the company did not return phone calls seeking comment. (more…)

By Tom Abate/San Francisco Chronicle

The next generation of Californians could enter the workforce lacking basic skills as the two state institutions that help adults improve in reading, writing and arithmetic suffer from a lack of funding and coordination, a new report says. The study being issued today by the California Budget Project looks at the Adult Education Program and community colleges, two separate systems that offer remedial classes to 1.5 million adults who need help to prepare for jobs or additional education. "We’re talking about basic English literacy, basic math and English as a second language," said project analyst Vicky Lovell. "These are skills you need to get entry- level work right away, and they’re also the skills you need to succeed in higher education to get a better job." (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 30, 2009

September 30th, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Wednesday, September 30, 2009

By J.M.Brown/Santa Cruz Sentinel

State Sen. Joe Simitian met with three top federal education officials in Washington on Tuesday to assure them that a bill awaiting the governor’s signature would qualify California for a piece of the $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund. The Palo Alto Democrat’s bill would clarify state law to fall in line with eligibility requirements for President Obama’s controversial education reform program, which teachers unions and other critics have likened to the unpopular No Child Left Behind because of its reliance on test scores as a critical gauge of student performance. The Race to the Top funds, which is part of the federal stimulus package passed in February, will reward states that articulate a clear plan for implementing consistent standards and establishing a longitudinal data system that tracks students from the earliest years through college. (more…)

By Bob Egelko/San Francisco Chronicle

Veteran schoolteachers who refuse training that qualifies them to instruct students who speak only limited English can be fired, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday. A San Joaquin County school district that ordered all its teachers to take language training was within its authority to begin dismissal proceedings against a tenured high school music teacher who defied the requirement, said the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento. The teacher, Theresa Messick of Ripon High School, is considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court, her lawyer said. The ruling is the first to address districts’ authority under a recent state law that requires teachers to get special training to work in classes that include students not fluent in English - about one-fifth of California’s total enrollment. (more…)

By Alyson Klein/Education Week

Construction bonding authority—a technical, and often obscure, source of capital funding for school districts—has emerged as a hot ticket for those looking to finance school facilities work under the federal government’s economic-stimulus program. With little stimulus money expected to be left for construction after states make up for recession-driven budget cuts, districts are scrambling for some $24 billion or more in zero- or low-interest bonds under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” said Judy Marks, the associate director of the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, based in Washington. Not only are bonds available, she said, “the cost of construction materials is down, the cost of labor is down, a lot of contractors who would be busy bidding for [office buildings and other projects] are competing for school construction.” (more…)

By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

A Southland state legislator leads a hearing Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. in Los Angeles to encourage more parent participation in public education. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: State Senator Gloria Romero says parents these days are more likely to organize protests against cuts in the education budget than bake sales. Still, she adds, some parents still feel unwelcome at their childrens’ schools. Gloria Romero: Schools need to invite parents and encourage parents and make it a warm atmosphere for parents to exercise their rights. Guzman-Lopez: She wants to involve more parents – not because she wants to start a parent revolution. Romero: We know from the research, from academic research, when parents get involved that student outcomes are better, we know that there’s increased student achievement, better school attendance, higher graduation rates. (more…)

By Tracy Garcia/Whittier Daily News

A new report from the Public Policy Institute of California says full-day kindergarten may not be as academically beneficial for youngsters as once believed. However, officials at the Little Lake City School District - the first to implement full-day kindergarten in the Whittier area in 2004 - say their program has indeed helped prepare students for academic success. The recent PPIC study, "Full-Day Kindergarten in California: Lessons from Los Angeles," examined the impact of a longer day for kindergartners in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Much like several Whittier-area districts, LAUSD shifted from a half-day to full-day kindergarten over the past four years. So researchers Jill Cannon, Alison Jacknowitz, Gary Painter and Shannon McConville set out to discover its effect on students. (more…)

Duncan Enlists Odd Allies in Multibillion-Dollar Bid to Shake Up U.S. Education
By Neil King Jr./Wall Street Journal

Education Secretary Arne Duncan invited an odd pair of allies to classrooms in this city to help tout his multibillion-dollar bid to shake up the country’s education system: the liberal Rev. Al Sharpton and the conservative former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. "These two guys don’t agree on 96% of everything else, but they do agree on the need for dramatic educational reform," Mr. Duncan said. Rev. Al Sharpton, left, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich at a Philadelphia school on Tuesday as part of a ‘listening and learning’ tour to find out what school strategies are working and why. As the Obama administration forges ahead with the most ambitious federal intervention in education in decades, Mr. Duncan, the former Chicago schools superintendent, needs whatever political support he can get. (more…)

Also Noted for Wednesday, September 30, 2009:

By Shelly Meron/Contra Costa Times

Teachers turned up at four different main intersections in Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo and Hercules, wearing blue United Teachers of Richmond shirts and eliciting honks of support from passing cars. "I’m here because of the injustices the district is doing to its teachers and students," said Lourdes Balderas, a second-grade teacher at Coronado Elementary, who was one of about 70 people demonstrating at the corner of Macdonald Avenue and 23rd Street in Richmond. Balderas said she has four kids, and if the district makes the proposed cuts to benefits, she’ll have to come up with $800 a month to provide health care for her family. "I might have to find another job," she said. "I hope the district realizes what they’re doing to us, and it won’t get to that point." (more…)

By Susan Abram/Los Angeles Daily News

She is here to learn to fly, to catch the moon in her hands. Remember her name. "I used to be alone all the time in my other school," said Natalie Arias, a 14-year-old from North Hollywood who plays an intricate violin concerto as easily as most teens master Guitar Hero. "I didn’t talk much." But at Central Los Angeles High School No. 9, Natalie and 1,200 other students - singers and dancers, musicians and actors - can free their inner Madonna and Baryshnikov, their Itzhak Perlman and Meryl Streep, without fear of ridicule. Here, criticism comes without wounds. Fame comes after it is earned. Built between the Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s landmark visual and performing arts school opened two weeks ago, nine years after construction began. (more…)

Blog by Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

San Diego Unified has stopped giving any student information to the military amid complaints from angry parents who said they received forms that were pre-marked to allow their children’s information to be given to military recruiters, instead of allowing them to check yes or no. Activist Rick Jahnkow told the school board that the forms appear to violate families’ rights. While some parents crossed out the "yes" mark on the sheets, "no doubt many parents didn’t realize they could do this," said Jahnkow, a coordinator of the Education Not Arms Coalition, which earlier protested the alleged involuntary enrollment of students in military science classes and rifle ranges on campus. "Some people in this district want to help the military recruit new soldiers more than they want to help us go to college," said Tania Luken, a mother who was outraged by the forms. (more…)

San Diego 10News

As a result of a 10News story, the San Diego Unified School District is questioning all of its principals to find out more about fees being charged for school activities or supplies. Many parents did not know that schools are breaking the law when they ask parents to buy supplies for their children, for both extracurricular and curricular activities, and it ranges from small items like pencils and paper, to more expensive things like cheerleading uniforms. "Is this happening here in San Diego?" asked 10News’ Charisse Yu. "It is, and it’s happening more than people realize," said San Diego School Board member John DeBeck. Schools can’t ask parents to pay for items because a 1984 State Supreme Court ruling made it clear that the state’s guarantee of a free education meant just that. (more…)

By Larry Abramson/NPR

Until a year ago, Beverly Harvey was more familiar with balance sheets than attendance sheets. Harvey had spent 25 years in the banking industry before switching careers and becoming an elementary-school teacher. When banker turned teacher Beverly Harvey signed her contract with Prince George’s County School District, she was thrilled. "This day has finally arrived. This is it!" Harvey said as she signed it. Every year, schools in the U.S. hire a quarter of a million new teachers. Desperate to boost the number of top-quality educators, school districts are luring people from other professions. Beverly Harvey, a former vice president at Citigroup, trained for her new career during a crash course in teaching. Though she had worked in the banking industry for 25 years, she was required to take math classes as part of her preparation. (more…)

Editorial/Concord Monitor

Why are dads taking on more household chores and child-rearing duties than ever before? The first and best answer is necessity. More moms are working outside the home than in generations past, in turn nudging men into roles their fathers and grandfathers had little need to contemplate. But this new household order was not constructed on the stench of dirty diapers alone. Changes in attitudes and priorities have strongly contributed to the revolution. Similar changes will be needed to bring about the kind of change championed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a "Conversation on Fatherhood" forum in Manchester last week. Duncan and others involved with the initiative kicked off by President Obama in June are doing a good job of stressing the need for fathers to be involved in their kids’ education. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 29, 2009

September 29th, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Commentary by Askari Gonzalez/New America Media

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger, When is the last time you talked to a public school student? And I don’t mean one of those meet-and-greet, dog-and-pony shows. I mean, you know, really talked to one of us, like inviting us over to your office in Sacramento or going to lunch at a McDonald’s. To find out what’s really going on in our schools and in our lives. Well, since it seems like it’s been a while, I decided to write you this letter. My name is Askari Gonzalez and I am a junior at William C. Overfelt High School in East San Jose, California. Overfelt is a lot like many high schools in California. The students and teachers do the best with what they have. It is mostly Latino. Two-thirds are considered low-income and almost one-third is learning English. Only 2 percent of our 1,600 students go on to a University of California campus. (more…)

Opinion by Diane Ravitch/New York Times
Ravitch is a historian. Her book ‘‘The Death and Life of the Great American School System’’ will be published in February.

The single biggest problem in American education is that no one agrees on why we educate. Faced with this lack of consensus, policy makers define good education as higher test scores. But higher test scores are not a definition of good education. Students can get higher scores in reading and mathematics yet remain completely ignorant of science, the arts, civics, history, literature and foreign languages. Why do we educate? We educate because we want citizens who are capable of taking responsibility for their lives and for our democracy. We want citizens who understand how their government works, who are knowledgeable about the history of their nation and other nations. We need citizens who are thoroughly educated in science. We need people who can communicate in other languages. We must ensure that every young person has the chance to engage in the arts. But because of our narrow-minded utilitarianism, we have forgotten what good education is. (more…)

By Kathy Matheson/San Francisco Chronicle

The Rev. Al Sharpton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich don’t agree on much, but a meeting with a group of inner-city charter school students on Tuesday left them with the same impression: There is hope for improving the U.S. education system. "We may disagree about other issues, but this is a place where we have a common" goal, Gingrich said outside Mastery Charter School in West Philadelphia. "I take education very, very seriously." Sharpton, a liberal Democrat, and Gingrich, a conservative Republican, joined Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the first stop of a "listening and learning" tour to find out which school strategies are working and why. The odd couple of Gingrich and Sharpton found common ground in the concept that education is the new frontier on civil rights. President Barack Obama has a goal of turning around 5,000 failing schools across the U.S. in the next five years. (more…)

By Jill Tucker/San Francisco Chronicle

A Marin County nonprofit will pour $35 million into a handful of school districts specifically to help students who lag behind their more privileged peers, an unprecedented infusion of cash focused on about 1,800 children. The money from the Marin Community Foundation will amount to about $19,000 per student over five years, or $3,800 apiece annually in extra services. The full grant is a jaw-dropping figure that will probably grow with additional donations from the 300 families that have contributed to the foundation’s $1 billion assets, said Thomas Peters, the group’s president and chief executive officer. The organization is making grants to schools in the San Rafael, Sausalito Marin City, Novato and Shoreline school districts, which are attended by the highest percentage of low-achieving students in Marin County. (more…)

By Sharon Noguchi/San Jose Mercury News

On a day when temperatures were forecast to hit nearly 100 degrees, Principal Tom Scheid had donned black slacks, a black dress shirt and tie to address the junior and senior classes at San Jose High Academy. Afterward, he’d change to short sleeves. But talking up the success on state test scores, and the challenge ahead, he was all business. "Our teachers worked really hard, and you worked really hard," he said. "We need to keep going up." In the past two years, San Jose High leapt 63 points on the state’s Academic Performance Index — and its Latino students, who make up 80 percent of the school, did even better, jumping 72 points. But there are too few San Jose Highs in Santa Clara County. In API scores released this month, for the first time the median score of local Latino students fell below that of Latinos statewide. (more…)

By Cheri Carlson/Ventura County Star

Natalie Johnston of Fillmore attends Santa Clara School near Santa Paula, which has 56 students in three classrooms, none single grades. It also has high test scores, and Principal Kari Skidmore says students learn not only what’s required for their grades level, but also are enriched by exposure to the other grade’s material. Jill Bengtsson kept her daughter home on the first day of school this fall, protesting her Camarillo school’s decision to put the 9-year-old in a combined class of third- and fourth-graders. With one teacher split between two grades, she worried her daughter would be shortchanged. “I feel like my child’s not getting the same education this year,” Bengtsson said. “You just don’t get the same amount of instruction.” Schools have added more combination classes this year as districts tighten budgets and increase class sizes amid huge state funding cuts. Some parents have balked, while others seek out the multigrade classes that experts say can be a good, if challenging, way to educate kids. (more…)

Also Noted for Tuesday, September 29, 2009:

Guy Mehula, 56, who had been with the program since 2002, quit after an apparent power struggle with district leadership. James Sohn is named interim facilities chief.
By Seema Mehta/Los Angeles Times

Guy Mehula, the highly regarded head of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s massive school construction program, has resigned after an apparent power struggle with district leadership. In a brief letter to subordinates Monday, Mehula gave no hint of discord, painting his departure as an opportunity to search for new challenges. "The work that we have done together and the investments we have made in our schools, community, and economy are significant," he wrote. But critics say Mehula’s resignation is fallout from a growing rift between his facilities services division and district headquarters, prompted by policy changes made by Supt. Ramon C. Cortines that threaten to dismantle the award-winning division. (more…)

The loss of the head of the LAUSD’s construction division could be the beginning of waste, cost overruns, political contracts and worse.
Commentary By Constance L. Rice/Los Angeles Times

Constance L. Rice is a civil rights attorney and a member of the School Construction Bond Oversight Committee.

The construction unit of the Los Angeles Unified School District has successfully and cost-effectively built 80 new schools and won scores of awards. So how has Supt. Ray Cortines rewarded this efficient unit? By driving out its superb leadership. Guy Mehula, the talented head of the construction division, resigned Monday after LAUSD leaders made clear their intention of dragging Mehula’s quasi-independent team back under the tight control of the district. Taking away the unit’s autonomy would be a huge mistake. The district has tried micromanaging the construction of schools, and it failed miserably. If you need convincing, just think about the disastrous cost overruns and construction errors of the Belmont Learning Complex. (more…)

By Rebecca Kimitch/Whittier Daily News

Walking through the halls of high schools in El Monte, Rosemead and South El Monte, it is possible to hear more than 30 different languages spoken. From the more common Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese to Khmer, Farsi, Gujarati, and Urdu - students with native languages other than English are the rule, not the exception. Less than one-quarter of all students in the El Monte Union High School District speak only English. This diversity presents unique challenges to the district, as well as interesting opportunities, according to students and administrators. "It’s a nice experience. You get to see all different cultures. You can’t exactly tell where people are from, but then you talk to them and learn," said El Monte High School senior Carlos Gonzalez, who is among the 60 percent of students in the district who also speaks Spanish. (more…)

By Jill Tucker/San Francisco Chronicle

It was 1984 when a handful of San Francisco parents embarked on a controversial education experiment to open the first Chinese immersion public school program in the nation. The idea was to immerse the students in Cantonese from the first day of school, teaching them math, science and other subjects in Chinese and gradually increasing English skills along the way. Success would mean that by the time the children finished elementary school, they would be grade-level literate in both languages. The pioneering venture, which operates at West Portal Elementary’s kindergarten through fifth grades, was launched as U.S.-China relations were just warming. Today, it has become one of the school district’s shining stars, gaining steady popularity among families and setting an example for similar programs in San Francisco and across the country. (more…)

Garfield High is left with a burned-out shell as L.A. Unified and insurers argue over whether the remaining walls should be demolished after 2007 arson fire.
By Carla Rivera/Los Angeles Times

Garfield High School has not hosted a play, a musical performance or an assembly in its historic auditorium since an arson fire gutted it nearly 2 1/2 years ago. A burned-out shell — its walls shored up with a latticework of scaffolding and steel beams — is all that remains from the three-alarm blaze that caused an estimated $30 million in damage to the East Los Angeles landmark. After pledges to rebuild the facility, a benefit concert by Los Lobos and donations from boxer Oscar De La Hoya, among others, the Los Angeles Unified School District is mired in an insurance dispute that could create additional delays and leave the school system footing more of the bill. Community members and alumni, who long relied on the auditorium for neighborhood meetings and events, are frustrated — as are school administrators and students. (more…)

By Larry Copeland/USA TODAY

Driver’s education in public schools, which virtually disappeared a generation ago, could be staging a comeback. "We’re on the cusp of a renaissance of driver’s education here in this country," says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. High school driver’s ed was nearly universal 30 years ago. Today it is offered in only a fraction of schools in standard curriculum. About 15% of eligible students take high school driver’s ed compared with 95% in the 1970s, says Allen Robinson, CEO of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, which represents about 50,000 public and private driver’s ed teachers. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 28, 2009

September 28th, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Monday, September 28, 2009

Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

The state has avoided facing the shortcomings in public schools long enough. California legislators should use the upcoming special session on education to make the sweeping reforms the state’s school system urgently needs. A legislative focus on grabbing more federal funds misses the point: California education requires fundamental changes in operation and governance. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month called a special session of the Legislature to help the state qualify for a share of $4.35 billion in federal schools money. The governor wants to link student test scores to teacher evaluations, a requirement for landing the federal dollars. Schwarzenegger also would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools and give parents more freedom to choose which public school their children attend, among other suggestions. (more…)

Commentary by Carmina Ocampo and Connie Choi/New America Media

On Sept. 24, 2009, a coalition of 80 Asian Pacific American (APA) civil rights, legal, student, and community organizations filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief with the California Supreme Court to support the right of undocumented APA college students to pay in-state tuition under state law. AB 540 is a California law that allows both documented and undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities if they have attended at least three years of high school in California, graduated from a California high school, and met other conditions. Enacted in 2001, AB 540 has made it possible for thousands of California high school students, including APA youth, to attend public community colleges, Cal State schools, and universities in the state. AB 540 and undocumented students’ ability to afford college is in jeopardy. (more…)

Reform efforts in Sacramento push the controversial proposal into the spotlight.
By Scott Martindale/Orange County Register

Imagine a teacher getting fired or disciplined for failing to improve his students’ test scores. To federal education officials and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the idea makes perfect sense – a way to hold teachers accountable and to weed out those who don’t belong in the profession. In fact, several school districts across the nation are experimenting with the idea.
For those in the trenches, however, the strategy is a chilling prospect – a plan, they say, that’s likely to wreak havoc on years of carefully planned efforts to boost student achievement. "Breathing down teachers’ backs is not going to get results; it’s just going to run people out of the profession," said Armando Gutierrez, an elementary school assistant principal in Santa Ana and a reigning Orange County Teacher of the Year. (more…)

Blog by Zach Miners/U.S. News & World Report

In recent months, an alliance of the nation’s governors and state education officials has led an initiative to develop common academic standards to which all public K-12 students would be held. In an early step toward that goal, experts convened by the group this week released a set of math and English skills they say students should master before high school graduation, the Washington Post reports. The hefty standards envisioned in the proposal, which is posted at www.corestandards.org, leave little to be desired in terms of quantity. In math, they range from core practices such as constructing viable arguments and making sense of complex problems to modeling quantitative relationships and mastering probability and statistics. And the standards for English language arts focus on reading and writing skills as well as speaking and listening proficiencies, including presenting information and responding constructively to advance a discussion. (more…)

Editorial/New York Times

With sound ideas and a commitment to rigorously monitor the states’ progress, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has revitalized the school-reform effort that had lost most of its momentum by the closing days of the Bush administration. His power to press for reforms was dramatically enhanced earlier this year when Congress gave him control of $4.3 billion in grant money — the Race to the Top fund — that is to be disbursed to the states on a competitive basis. Mr. Duncan will need to resist political pressure and special pleadings and reward only the states that are committed to effective and clearly measurable reform. Mr. Duncan’s exhortations, and the promise of so much cash, have already persuaded eight states to adopt measures favorable to charter schools, which Mr. Duncan rightly sees as crucial in the fight to turn around failing schools. (more…)

National Journal

The Common Core State Standards Initiative last week released a draft of its college and career-readiness standards for English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. Led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, this initiative has the Obama administration’s strong support. How would you grade this draft? How could common state standards impact the quality of U.S. education? (more…)


Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Barack Obama gets his way. Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe. "Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom." The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go. (more…)

Study of eight districts looks at school autonomy.
By Debra Viadero/Education Week

Management expert William G. Ouchi wants to let educators in on a secret: The key to improving student achievement is lightening teaching loads. Mr. Ouchi lays out that message in a new book, The Secret of TSL, published this month by Simon & Schuster of New York City. The letters stand for “total student load,” which Mr. Ouchi defines as the number of students that teachers come in contact with each academic term and the number of papers they grade. In a not-yet-published study of 442 schools in eight large urban districts that have devolved power to local principals, Mr. Ouchi finds that schools that have reduced TSL in measurable ways also tend to have higher passing rates on state exams. “When you reduce TSL, you increase by far the likelihood that a student will encounter a teacher in a hallway or an office and have a one-on-one conversation that will motivate the student to keep going,” Mr. Ouchi said. (more…)

Federal judge says ‘vestiges of discrimination are no longer’.
By Azam Ahm/Chicago Tribune

Exactly 29 years after the U.S. government sued Chicago Public Schools for discriminating against black and Hispanic students, a federal judge has ended the resulting mandate for the district to racially integrate. U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras vacated the so-called desegregation consent decree late Thursday, stating in an opinion that within the district schools "the vestiges of discrimination are no longer." The judge also scrapped federal oversight of the district’s bilingual program, saying it was a state issue. The decision is likely to have the most impact on magnet and selective schools in the district, which have maintained race-based admissions while neighborhood schools draw from their local geographic areas. (more…)

Also Noted for Monday, September 28, 2009:

Green Dot Public Schools has been able to reduce class sizes by watching the pennies and going after grants and state funding. It raises the question of whether L.A. was shortchanging the students.
Editorial/Los Angeles Times

It requires a second or even a third look at Locke High School to discern the changes this fall, one year after it was taken over by charter operator Green Dot Public Schools. The uniforms are still an ensemble of chinos and polo shirts. The teenagers still gather in the quad for lunch. But almost without exception, the students now wear those uniforms without complaint, unlike last year when they would shrug off the shirts as soon as they thought no one was looking. And instead of huddling on the quad with a few friends in clumps, a large group plays pickup soccer on the grass. The teachers are still mostly young — well, one tough year older — and passionate about the mission of teaching disadvantaged students. The big difference: There are 43 more of them than last year, a 25% increase. (more…)

Control of the East L.A. school, setting for ‘Stand and Deliver,’ could shift because of its low academic standing.
By Howard Blume/Los Angeles Times

Garfield High, which became nationally known as the real-life setting for the film "Stand and Deliver," will be among the initial 12 local campuses, including six high schools, eligible for takeover because of persistent academic failure, officials announced Friday. The nation’s second-largest school system will invite bidders from inside and outside the district to run these schools next year through a proposal process that is still being developed. The Los Angeles Board of Education authorized this school-control plan in August; it applies to low-achieving existing schools and to 51 new campuses set to open over the next four years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Garfield, which for decades has served a largely immigrant Latino population in East Los Angeles, reached a high-water mark in the 1980s, when math teacher Jaime Escalante built his famed calculus program. (more…)

CLASS: San Fernando campus among 12 underperforming sites LAUSD may farm out.
By Connie Llanos/Los Angeles Daily News

San Fernando Middle School, the oldest school in the San Fernando Valley and the second-oldest in Los Angeles, is one of a dozen campuses that could be taken over by an independent operator next year under a new Los Angeles Unified School District reform plan, officials said Friday. District officials released a list of chronically underperforming schools, paving the way for charter organizations, the teachers union and nonprofit groups to submit proposals to operate the campuses. Under the original guidelines of the School Choice Plan approved by the LAUSD board in August, 302 new and underperforming schools were eligible to be taken over. The plan called for all schools that had failed to meet federal test goals for more than three years to be included on the list. (more…)

‘Youth and Education’ aims to bridge a cultural divide by providing tips on helping students on a wide range of questions.
By My-Thuan Tran/Los Angeles Times

Annie Mai knows what it’s like to be the only Vietnamese student in class. She understands what it is to have parents who work long hours and are unable to help their children with schoolwork. And she can relate when a child must translate for her parents during teacher conferences. Mai was 7 when her family arrived in Orange County in 1979 and was immediately confronted with such challenges. Now an education consultant for the Garden Grove Unified School District, she knows that Vietnamese families still face many of the same difficulties. The 48,000-student district has struggled to reach out to the Vietnamese community since refugees began settling in this middle-class suburb after the war, dramatically changing its demographics. In Garden Grove schools, the proportion of Vietnamese has shot up from 3% of students in 1977 to nearly 30% today. (more…)

The international high school provides an alternative to newcomers, some of whom have never been in a classroom.
By Anna Gorman/Los Angeles Times

Samuel Kanwea showed up for what should have been his freshman year in high school illiterate, malnourished and exhausted from years of living in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast. His family had never been able to afford the luxury of education, so he spent his early teenage years collecting firewood and selling fish. When the Liberian refugee started school in Oakland at the age of 17, it was the first time he had set foot in a classroom. "Everyone was speaking English and it confused me," said Kanwea, a lanky student with a wide smile. "And I felt scared because I think that I was the only one who didn’t know how to read." New immigrants and refugees have long posed challenges for educators in the United States, but Kanwea and others like him present unique problems because they are often strangers to traditional schools. Academic issues are only one facet of their adjustment. (more…)

Blog by Karin Piper/San Francisco Examiner

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been meeting with public school change agent Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot (charter) Schools and co-founder of Rock the Vote. The topic of the meeting has been whether or not Green Dot’s methods can help turn around 5,000 of the lowest performing schools in the country. Green Dot currently operates 19 schools in the Los Angeles area, the most famous project is Watt’s Locke High School. Located in the intersection of a multiple gang territories and known as the very area that both the Cripps and the Bloods were founded, prior to Green Dot’s management Locke High School was described as a tax-subsidized gang-recruitment center. Adults had no control and the gangs ran the show. In 2007 a riot broke out on campus. It went on for more than a half hour and gradually involved 60 kids. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 25, 2009

September 25th, 2009

Themes in the News for the week of September 21-25, 2009

School Cuts Have Consequences: Larger Classes, Less Attention

Now that summer has drawn to a close, and the tumult over education budget “compromises” has quieted, some might feel relieved—might think that another crisis has passed. In fact, the crisis has just moved out of sight and into classrooms.

Students and teachers at every level (kindergarten through college) and in nearly every school, district, and region of the state are feeling the crisis every day: more students per class, less teacher-attention per student, stretched learning resources, dwindling support services that include “cuts to clerical, custodial and cafeteria staffs and, in secondary schools, to counselors and administrators as well” (Los Angeles Times).

As in the past, some severe examples will merit a human interest headline, as when we learn this week of classes filled with nearly fifty students and still scrambling to find enough seats for everyone to sit (Los Angeles Times).

Fairfax High School history teacher John Collier must explain, “…it’s unreasonable to ask me to teach a class of 48 kids and give attention to everybody" (Los Angeles Times). Collier’s comment raises the very sad question: Is anyone actually asking him to “give attention to everybody”? Or is less attention simply one more cut alongside less bus service?

Student learning and supports are also compromised at the state’s colleges and universities: the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and Community Colleges. Students in all three systems are facing “bigger class sizes, fewer campus services, and less accessible faculty members, all at sharply rising prices. (The New York Times)” UC students are paying 9.3 percent more in tuition, with additional fee increases under consideration. CSU students are paying 20 percent more, and Community College students are paying 30 percent more.

Cal State Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), in Carson, serves more students of color than any other university campus in California. The state budget cuts have an especially heavy impact on CSUDH because of the “funding formula of the system, which favors full-time students over part-time students,” and which “doesn’t recognize the complicated lives of the working-class students of color who attend Dominguez Hills” (The Daily Breeze).

Joshua Clover, an associate professor of English at the University of California, Davis, told NPR that, “students are getting less attention from their professors. . . ” “I’m teaching. . .introduction to poetry. I taught it two years ago. It had 80 students. And there were four discussion sections of 20 each that met once a week, in which they could discuss matters in detail. [This year there are] 120 students in the class and no discussion sections" (NPR).

Community colleges face increasing enrollment while battling with $840 million in funding cuts. "Opportunities are getting thwarted. For some people, community college is their hope for retraining and to get a college education”, said Audrey Yamagata-Noji, vice president of student services at Mt. San Antonio College. “It really is a bind for everybody" (Inland Valley Daily Bulletin).

Top Stories and Commentary for Friday, September 25, 2009

Editorial/The Bakersfield Californian

Dropout rates have a direct correlation to juvenile crime, so it stands to reason that keeping kids in school helps to keep our streets safe. And if that’s the case, few parts of California stand to benefit from effective stay-in-school programs more than Kern County, one of four Central Valley counties with dropout rates higher than the state average of 18.9 percent. And based on 2007-08 data from the California Department of Education, Kern County’s dropout rate is the highest, at 26.9 percent. It’s hard to precisely quantify the real-world cost of the dropout problem, in terms of juvenile crime, but the California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara has tried. Researchers’ best guess: $1.1 billion per year. The ongoing problem not only takes a huge chunk out of the state economy, it also threatens public safety, the researchers maintain. (more…)

By Nick Anderson/Washington Post

To the surprise of many educators who campaigned last year for change in the White House, the Obama administration’s first recipe for school reform relies heavily on Bush-era ingredients and adds others that make unions gag. Standardized testing, school accountability, performance pay, charter schools — all are integral to President Obama’s $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition to spur innovation. None is a typical Democratic crowd-pleaser. Labor leaders, parsing the Education Department’s fine print, call the proposal little more than a dressed-up version of the No Child Left Behind law enacted seven years ago under Obama’s Republican predecessor. "It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools and measurement," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "That’s Bush III." Weingarten, who praises Obama for massive federal aid to help schools through the recession, said her 1.4 million-member union is engaged in "a constructive but tart dialogue" with the administration about reform. (more…)

The US education secretary’s approach involves finding and highlighting innovative solutions in schools around the nation.
By Marjorie Kehe/Christian Science Monitor

Arne Duncan, the US education secretary, is candid about his hopes for a major overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is overdue for reauthorization. “The first thing that’s got to go is the name,” said Secretary Duncan, his face somewhere between a smile and a grimace Duncan was in Manchester, N.H., on Wednesday at a forum on President Obama’s Fatherhood Initiative. Afterward, he gave an interview to the Monitor in which he talked about plans for reform of America’s education system. One thing he stressed: The leadership may come from Washington, but the best ideas on which steps to take will probably be found somewhere else. “When I worked in Chicago, I never imagined the best ideas came from Washington,” he says, referring to his years as CEO of the Chicago public-school system. “Now that I’m in Washington, I certainly don’t imagine that.” (more…)

By Alyson Klein/Education Week

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan signaled this week that the U.S. Department of Education is poised to launch reauthorization efforts for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as he used a packed meeting here to underline his likely priorities to a broad range of key stakeholders. He said the new version of the law will need to ensure effective teachers and principals for underperforming schools, expand learning time, and devise an accountability system that measures individual student progress and uses data to inform instruction and teacher evaluation. He repeated his assertion, made in a number of speeches since he took office this year, that the federal government “should be tight on the goals—with clear standards set by states that truly prepare young people for college and careers—but … loose on the means for meeting those goals.” (more…)

By Ronald Roach/Diverse Online

One strategy to reduce high school dropout rates among African-American and Latino teenagers is to better align counselors and high quality teachers with the most vulnerable students as they move from elementary to middle to their high school freshman year, a Johns Hopkins University senior researcher told attendees Thursday during the Education Braintrust session at the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Annual Legislative Conference. Dr. Robert Balfanz, associate research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, said that analysis of the 2,000 high schools which account for roughly half of the nation’s dropouts showed that four out of five ninth-graders at those schools have either repeated grades making them older than traditional ninth-graders, or are doing academic work far below their grade levels. (more…)

By Terence Chea/Education Week

As schools grapple with a resurgence of swine flu, many districts have few or no nurses to prevent or respond to outbreaks, leaving students more vulnerable to a virus that spreads easily in classrooms and takes a heavier toll on children and young adults.
The shortage of school nurses could lead to more students falling ill from the H1N1 virus, which can be particularly dangerous for children with weakened immune systems or respiratory conditions such as asthma, experts say. "It’s really irresponsible of the school district to not really provide medical oversight while kids are in school," said Jamie Hintzke, who has two kids in Northern California’s Pleasanton Unified School District, including a son with severe food allergies. The district has one nurse for 15 schools and almost 15,000 students. "I’m playing Russian roulette every single day he goes to school." (more…)

By Garance Burke/The Associated Press

Over the last decade, the drinking water at thousands of schools across the country has been found to contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins. An Associated Press investigation found that contaminants have surfaced at public and private schools in all 50 states - in small towns and inner cities alike. But the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government, even as the number of water safety violations has multiplied. "It’s an outrage," said Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech who has been honored for his work on water quality. "If a landlord doesn’t tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail. But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?" (more…)

Blog by Carla Rivera/Los Angeles Times

A coalition of 80 civil rights, student and community organizations representing Asian and Pacific Islander Americans today filed a legal brief with the California Supreme Court supporting a state law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state fees at public colleges and universities. Thousands of immigrant youths, many from low-income families, would find it impossible to afford college if the law is invalidated, said Yungsuhn Park, an attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, which co-wrote the brief. The state’s highest court is considering the case, Martinez vs. Regents of the University of California, which challenges the 2001 state law, AB 540, allowing documented and undocumented students to pay in-state rather than out-of-state tuition if they attend at least three years of high school in California, graduate from a state high school and promise to apply for permanent residency. (more…)

Also Noted for Friday, September 25, 2009:

By Jeff Nachtigal/Bakersfield Californian

Juvenile crime costs California at lot: an estimated $8.9 billion every year. The cure is complicated, but the formula is straightforward: reducing the dropout rate, which reduces economic loss due to crimes committed by kids, according to a study released Thursday by the California Dropout Research Project. The study also finds that juveniles commit one in six violent crimes; high school dropouts are twice as likely as graduates to commit crimes; and cutting juvenile crime by 30,000 cases would save the state another $550 million per year. The biggest finding? Savings realized by reducing juvenile crimes would pay for the programs to reduce dropouts. (more…)

Blog by Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

Buried in all the documents for the school board meeting next Tuesday is a disturbing report on why San Diego Unified identifies so many black students and English learners for special education. This isn’t a surprise: Another expert studied San Diego Unified two years ago and found that black children are disproportionately likely to be labeled as emotionally disturbed and English learners also make up a disproportionate part of special education classes. Harvard professor Thomas Hehir worried that students shunted into separate classes might be underserved compared to if they had stayed in mainstream classes and been given extra help. But the report sheds light on why, exactly, this seems to be happening. The "current system focuses on identification rather than prevention and punishment rather than support," wrote Jaime Hernandez, a consultant hired by the school district to examine the problem. (more…)

By Diana Lambert/Sacramento Bee

Teachers, parents and students packed the Natomas Unified School District headquarters Wednesday night to beseech board members to save classes and special programs. But bloodletting was unavoidable. The County Office of Education had exhausted all warnings to the district and, as of Wednesday morning, had stepped in to right the district’s finances. County education officials told Natomas trustees to cut $200,000 from this year’s budget and $5 million from the budgets of each of the next three years. Assistant Superintendent John Christ told The Bee Thursday that the district’s financial trouble is due to a number of factors, including administrators being overly optimistic about incoming federal money and potential state budget cuts. (more…)

By Celia W. Dugger/New York Times

Thousands of children marched to City Hall this week in sensible black shoes, a stream of boys and girls from township schools across this seaside city that extended for blocks, passing in a blur of pleated skirts, blazers and rep ties. Their polite demand: Give us libraries and librarians. The marchers in Cape Town, who numbered in the thousands. The marchers echoed a children’s uprising against apartheid in 1976. “We want more information and knowledge,” said a ninth grader, Abongile Ndesi. In the 15 years since white supremacist rule ended in South Africa, the governing party, the African National Congress, has put in place numerous policies to transform schools into engines of opportunity. But many of its leaders, including President Jacob Zuma, now acknowledge that those efforts have too often failed. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 24, 2009

September 24th, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Thursday, September 24, 2009

Study finds that cutting the dropout rate in half would save $550 million and prevent 30,000 juvenile crimes a year. Law enforcement urges more dropout-prevention programs.

By Seema Mehta/Los Angeles Times

High school dropouts, who are more likely to commit crimes than their peers with diplomas, cost the state $1.1 billion annually in law enforcement and victim costs while still minors, according to a study being released today. The California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara found that cutting the dropout rate in half would prevent 30,000 juvenile crimes and save $550 million every year. "This study demonstrates the immediate impact dropouts have on both public safety and the economy," said project Director Russell W. Rumberger. "If California could reduce the dropout rate, it could subsequently reduce the juvenile crime rate and its staggering impact on the state budget." Drop-out statistics are notoriously difficult to pinpoint, but according to the state Department of Education, nearly 19% of students don’t graduate from high school. In Los Angeles County, the figure is more than one in five, and at some L.A. schools, fewer than half of students graduate within four years. (more…)

By Greg Toppo/USA TODAY

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to challenge educators, civil rights groups and others to put aside "tired arguments" about education reform to help him craft a sweeping reauthorization of federal education legislation by early 2010. In a speech to be delivered Thursday in Washington to more than 150 education, business, civil rights, charitable and social services groups, Duncan plans to invoke the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail that made the case for non-violent civil disobedience as state and local governments dragged their feet in integrating schools and communities. Duncan will tell the group that after 50 years of school reforms, court rulings and "watershed" reports, "we’re still waiting for the day when every child in America has a high-quality education that prepares him or her for the future." (more…)

By Libby Quaid/San Francisco Chronicle

The Obama administration is committed to the school accountability at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law championed by former President George W. Bush but also wants to make changes, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan credited the law for shining a spotlight on children who need the most help, according to a speech prepared for delivery Thursday. No Child Left Behind pushes schools to boost the performance of minority and poor children, who trail their white peers on standardized tests. Duncan agreed with critics that standardized tests are not ideal measures of student achievement. Yet "they are the best we have at the moment," Duncan said. "Until states develop better assessments," he said, "we must rely on standardized tests to monitor progress." (more…)

By Rob Hotakainen/Idaho Statesmen

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed merit pay for teachers and lifting the cap on charter schools, the head of the California NAACP stood by his side. And when the Los Angeles school board voted to approve a plan that could turn over a third of its schools to private operators, Latino members and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa led the charge. The nation’s public school teachers are feeling the squeeze from all sides these days, and some of the heat is coming from unlikely sources: minorities and longtime Democratic allies. One of them is President Barack Obama, who is irking teachers by suggesting that student test scores be used to judge the success of educators. The pressure is particularly intense in California, where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the state has "lost its way" with public schools. (more…)

By Cater Lee Swartzlander/Intersections

The first day of high school is an exciting and terrifying experience for any teenager. The agonizing decision of what to wear, what friends will be there, what teachers will be like - it is a day for the memory books. Now imagine entering a high school where there are 4,800 students, a size that’s larger than many college campuses. That is the reality for students at Garfield High School in Los Angeles. This school on East Sixth Street is the home of the "Big Bad Bulldogs," and on a beautiful September day in Southern California, it is pulsing with youthful activity. Garfield’s principal, Michael Summe, says it is a "formidable challenge" for the faculty of such a large high school to get to know the students within. One answer to trying to reduce the enormity of such a large school is the creation of small learning communities. (more…)

A new study finds breakthrough evidence.
Wall Street Journal

‘Creaming" is the word critics of charter schools think ends the debate over education choice. The charge has long been that charters get better results by cherry-picking the best students from standard public schools. Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford economist, found a way to reliably examine this alleged bias, and the results are breakthrough news for charter advocates. Her new study, "How New York City’s Charter Schools Affect Achievement," shows that charter students, typically from more disadvantaged families in places like Harlem, perform almost as well as students in affluent suburbs like Scarsdale. Because there are more applicants than spaces, New York admits charter students with a lottery system. The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable." (more…)

Also Noted for Thursday, September 24, 2009:

Complaints over student-teacher ratios.
By Chris Moran/San Diego Union-Tribune

The two largest teachers unions in the county are filing unfair-labor-practice complaints against school districts that increased class sizes this year to deal with unprecedented budget cuts. The Sweetwater Union High School District’s union claims the school board failed to negotiate with educators as required before changing last year’s 28-to-1 student-teacher ratio to 30-to-1 this year. “I don’t think any party should take advantage of the economic situation to impose any long-lasting changes,” union President Alex Anguiano said. Leaders with the San Diego Education Association say they plan to amend a previous complaint against the San Diego Unified School District, the state’s second-largest, over this year’s changes. The school board members are “doing their unilateral action and we’re staking out our legal case against it,” union President Camille Zombro said. (more…)

By Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

It was a stunning change of fortune. Months ago, as San Diego Unified struggled to cope with massive budget cuts, it suddenly discovered that the problem wasn’t as bad as it thought. Budget staffers found that their expected shortfall had suddenly dropped from $180 million to $106 million — a 40 percent change — after they added up new numbers for state funding and the actual savings from freezing spending. It was good news — but it made skeptical observers even more skeptical of the numbers. And as San Diego Unified heads into another year of budget cuts, analysts say its budgets remain unreliable. Outside experts hired by the district to pore over the budget found that the system is still riddled with problems, according to a draft report obtained by voiceofsandiego.org. Employees frequently have to enter and sort budget data by hand, increasing the chance of errors. Millions of dollars have been put in the wrong place as a result. (more…)

Editorial/Los Angeles Daily News

To say "Shame on the school board," is very tempting. The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education has decided to eliminate all special committee meetings and limit the number of speakers from the public allowed to talk during the remaining meetings. The board voted 5-2 for this new approach to conducting the public’s business. Board members said it was a cost-cutting measure. "We are in a crisis," said board president Monica Garcia, who proposed this plan. "And with this budget, we are not only challenged to do less … we must do things differently." This plan is too different. Garcia said her idea was partially drawn to address a 30 percent reduction in money for the district’s office of the board secretariat. The board secretariat coordinates all the district’s meetings and produces all meeting-related material. (more…)

By Katy Murphy/Oakland Tribune

Teacher Melinda Castrillon’s kindergarten class sang songs about elephants and sounded out letters of the alphabet. They talked about the weather, and she asked them for words beginning with O. But last week, when she invited them to pararse, half the group remained seated. And when she asked them to sentarse, the same children stayed on their feet until they saw their teacher signal with her hands for them to sit. Castrillon’s instructions, encouragements and gentle reprimands all were made in Spanish, a language still foreign to half of the children. But it won’t be unfamiliar for long — not if this new, Spanish-English immersion program at Melrose Leadership Academy works as designed. "Conejo, conejo, ce, ce, ce," they repeated after Castrillon, who held a large card with a rabbit and a giant letter C. Such "two-way language immersion" programs, in which children are instructed throughout the day in two languages, are cropping up in public and private schools throughout the state. (more…)

By Alejandra Molina/Orange County Register

After several online readers expressed discontent with staff at Laguna Hills High translating a weekly newsletter in Spanish, the high school’s principal is defending its decision to do so in order to foster more parent involvement and to meet state requirements. "A leading variable in student success is parent involvement," said Principal Sean Boulton Wednesday. "We need parent support as well. This is just one tool that we use to reach out to our parents." Tuesday’s online story about the newly translated newsletter sparked several comments with most disagreeing with the school’s decision. One reader commented: "This decision is one more reason for people to NOT assimilate. If Mr. Boulton wants to include everyone, then the newsletter should be translated into Farsi, Vietnamese, Arabic, Hebrew, and any number of other languages spoken at home." (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 22, 2009

September 22nd, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Tuesday, September 22, 2009

By Rob Hotakainen/Sacramento Bee

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed merit pay for teachers and lifting the cap on charter schools, the head of the California NAACP stood by his side. And when the Los Angeles school board voted to approve a plan that could turn over a third of its schools to private operators, Latino members and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa led the charge. The nation’s public school teachers are feeling the squeeze from all sides these days, and some of the heat is coming from unlikely sources: minorities and longtime Democratic allies. One of them is President Barack Obama, who is irking teachers by suggesting that student test scores be used to judge the success of educators. The pressure is particularly intense in California, where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the state has "lost its way" with public schools. (more…)

Budget cuts have forced schools to expand class sizes. In Los Angeles, some classes are now pushing 50 students.
By Josh Kleinbaum/NBC Los Angeles

What happens when you strip $6 billion from California’s education system? You get classrooms that look like clown cars, overflowing with kids: Students sitting on the floor or standing in a corner. Kids sitting on filing cabinets. Three children sharing one desk. Welcome to the California classroom in the age of budget cuts. That’s the bleak picture painted by the Los Angeles Times this week, as most students begin their third week of the school year. While some California school districts have been able to minimize the budget cuts, others have been hit hard. Teachers who haven’t been laid off find huge classes — some classes larger than 50 students. Kelly Kapowski and Zack Morris never had it so tough. "I’m very frustrated," John Collier, a teacher who has 48 students in his U.S. history class at Fairfax High School, told the Times. "I mean, it’s a good class — it’s an honors class, and the kids are really good. But it’s unreasonable to ask me to teach a class of 48 kids and give attention to everybody." (more…)

National Journal

The nation’s economy lost roughly $335 billion in additional income from high school students who should have graduated with the class of 2009 but dropped out, according to a brief that the Alliance for Excellent Education released last week. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan often talk about the serious problem of high school "dropout factories" that graduate 60 percent or fewer of their students. But there is no broad consensus on how to address the issue. One solution, proposed by a Texas education official, is for states to voluntarily ban the hiring of high school dropouts as a way of keeping kids in school. What do you think is the best way to solve the high school dropout crisis? (more…)

Department must weigh expertise, potential for conflicts of interest
By Michele McNeil/Education Week

The U.S. Department of Education is seeking 50 to 80 outside judges to help award $4 billion in Race to the Top Fund grants under the economic-stimulus program—job openings that demand both education policy expertise and a detached interest in the high-stakes education reform competition. Finding such “disinterested superstars,” as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called them, could be difficult, given the scope, scale, and money attached to the competition, observers say. Race to the Top grant applications, which will be submitted by states starting later this year, will touch on most corners of the education policy arena, from teacher quality and data systems to turnaround strategies for struggling schools and common academic standards. Those are also the four education reform “assurances” in the economic-stimulus package. (more…)

By Jennifer Medina/New York Times

Students who entered lotteries and won spots in New York City charter schools performed better on state exams than students who entered the same lotteries but did not secure charter school seats, according to a study by a Stanford University economist being released Tuesday. Charter schools, which are privately run but publicly financed, have been faring well on standardized tests in recent years. But skeptics have discounted their success by accusing them of “creaming” the best students, saying that the most motivated students and engaged parents are the ones who apply for the spots. The study’s methodology addresses that issue by comparing charter school students with students of traditional schools who applied for charter spots but did not get them. Most of the city’s 99 charter schools admit students by lottery. (more…)

Also Noted for Tuesday, September 22, 2009:

By Rubén Moreno/La Opinión (text in Spanish)

Those who arrive each day to the Parent Center at Huntington Park High School are welcomed with coffee, pasta and beans. Snacks are never missing, and neither are the volunteers who arrive there each day to help out with the school’s needs, even if it just means organizing letters that administrators need to mail out. This school has one of the highest levels of community participation in the district. Betty Davis-Gonzáles has been working on making sure that parents, like her, are involved. Otherwise, as she says, ‘the kids will not succeed without support." Betty still remembers how just a decade ago, parents met beneath a tree, until she was able to get a bungalow that now works as a Parent Center. (more…)

AGREEMENT: District will save $1 million, return 1,092 workers to full-time status.
By Connie Llanos/Los Angeles Daily News

Group of Los Angeles Unified employees to make concessions, bus drivers have agreed to take six unpaid days off this budget year, saving the cash-strapped school district an estimated $1 million. The agreement by members of SEIU Local 99 Unit C comes as the district struggles with a projected deficit of about $1.3billion over the next three years. The district has agreed to restore full-time work hours for 1,092 LAUSD bus drivers in exchange for the furlough days. Without the deal, work hours for full-time district bus drivers would have been cut - from eight to seven hours a day - affecting salary and retirement benefits, said SEIU spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos. "This is a sacrifice, because it represents a pay cut for these workers … but it was important for these workers to protect full-time jobs and benefits," Gallegos said. (more…)

By Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

Sandra Ruvalcaba isn’t sure if she would have tapped Dominic Satterfield as a gifted child before. His reading was a little weak and he struggled with writing last year at Cabrillo Elementary in Point Loma. But when the teacher began to use strategies for gifted children with all of her students, Dominic suddenly seemed to stand out. He flourished. His mother Sadie said it was "100 percent different" than the way she was taught as a child, and she liked what she saw. Dominic relished getting into debates with other children about the ethics of playground squabbles. He is a pint-sized philosopher with a karate T-shirt and a frank and surprisingly adult manner, who readily picks out what his teachers call the "Big Ideas" — one of the buzzwords that mark the new strategies — in classic stories such as the Tortoise and the Hare. (more…)

By Sam Dillon/New York Times

Tucked away in an $87 billion higher education bill that passed the House last week was a broad new federal initiative aimed not at benefiting college students, but at raising quality in the early learning and care programs that serve children from birth through age 5. The initiative, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, would channel $8 billion over eight years to states with plans to improve standards, training and oversight of programs serving infants, toddlers and preschoolers. The Senate is expected to pass similar legislation this fall, giving President Obama, who proposed the Challenge Fund during the presidential campaign, a bill to sign in December. (more…)

Large scale mural project finished after eight months at Johnnie Cochran Middle School in L.A.
By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

After eight months and more than 500 gallons of paint, two Los Angeles artists unveiled Friday a mural project that’s reshaped the climate at an 82-year-old middle school. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Surrounded by dozens of middle school students, painter Raul Baltazar describes the design elements of a new 40-by-125 foot outdoor mural at Johnnie Cochran Middle School in L.A.’s Mid- City. Raul Baltazar: That earth becomes the head of an elephant and then you see the tusks that are coming from that. And with the background, there’s these cobras, I don’t know if you noticed that, and then the feet of the elephant that’s coming out towards you. (more…)

By Celia W. Dugger/New York Times

KHAYELITSHA, South Africa — Seniors here at Kwamfundo high school sang freedom songs and protested outside the staff room last year because their accounting teacher chronically failed to show up for class. With looming national examinations that would determine whether they were bound for a university or joblessness, they demanded a replacement. A student waited for transportation at Kwamfundo High School in Khayelitsha. The school was the site of student riots last year because of teacher absenteeism. “We kept waiting, and there was no action,” said Masixole Mabetshe, who failed the exams and who now, out of work, passes the days watching TV. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 21, 2009

September 21st, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Monday, September 21, 2009

Opinion by Gerald W. Bracey/Sacramento Bee

Gerald W. Bracey has had a 42-year career in education. His most recent book is "Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality"

In view of the heated discussion of the California High School Exit Examination, it is important to know that, generally, this much we can say: High school exit examinations don’t work, and in some cases, they backfire. States don’t gather information on the effects of the test because the political risk is too great. Imagine voters’ outrage if a study found that a state had spent hundreds of millions on a test that did no good. Yet indications from various sources are that that is the case – the tests do no good. Reports from Massachusetts find that students who pass the exit exam there are as likely to need remedial work in college as students were before the test existed. (more…)

Blog by Mitchell Landsberg/Los Angeles Times

One of the most intensely debated aspects of President Obama’s "Race to the Top" fund for education, especially here in California, has been its insistence on a mechanism that would allow for teacher evaluations based on the performance of their students. It’s a no-brainer as far as a lot of people are concerned, but teachers unions abhor it and California law specifically forbids linking teachers with student achievement, at least at the state level. Now comes some interesting, and perhaps counterintuitive, news from Portugal, where the government recently began tying teacher pay to student achievement. A study released in May (and brought to our attention today by the Public Education Network) contains this stunner of a conclusion: "Overall, our results consistently indicate that the increased focus on individual teacher performance caused a sizable and statistically significant decline in student achievement." (more…)

By Canan Tasci/Contra Costa Times

Despite solid gains in academic achievement - according to the state accountability report - some educators continue to feel there is a disconnect between state and federal standards. The annual Accountability Progress Report released by the California Department of Education provides results from the Academic Performance Index, or API, as well as the federal accountability system, Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, and Program Improvement. The state API and federal AYP results report progress in different ways. "In contrast to the state’s API system, which recognizes improvement across all performance levels, the federal accountability system reflects only the number of students that have reached proficiency on California’s rigorous standards," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. (more…)

By Sean Cavanagh/Education Week

A revamped draft of proposed common academic standards for states offers more detailed expectations than an earlier version, though the document also says that some decisions about specific curricula and lessons should be left to individual states and schools. The document, released for public comment today, is supposed to provide guidelines for determining “college and career readiness” in language arts and math for students across the country. Forty-eight states have agreed to take part in the effort known as Common Core, whose goal is to establish more uniform expectations for the nation’s students, in contrast to the wide variations in academic standards that exist among the states today. Two organizations that work closely with states are leading the process: the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, through its Center for Best Practices. (more…)

The success of the Long Beach school district lies in the thousands of people that volunteer their time.
By Rubén Moreno/La Opinión (text in Spanish)

"It’s not that I don’t have other things to do, because as a mother and a wife, you’re always busy, but for me, the time I give to the schools is what I know will make a difference," says Maria, who has been volunteering for eight years. Among the 87,000 students that attend Long Beach school district, half are Latino and 70% of them receive free breakfast and lunch. To be a volunteer one just has to fill out a form and turn it in at school. Ms. Carol Pratt, who administers the group Volunteers in Public Schools in Long Beach receives an average of 25-30 new applications each day. "That’s not bad at all, when you consider it’s the start of the year," she says. Those who are closer to the kids need to take a tuberculosis test and register their fingerprints. (more…)

Also Noted for Monday, September 21, 2009:

Some L.A. Unified classes are crammed with about 50 students, leaving some pupils to sit on desks or the floor and their teachers to grade hundreds of papers while still focusing on improvement.

By Mitchell Landsberg/Los Angeles Times

If there had been rafters, somebody would have been hanging from them. As it was, every seat was taken. One young woman plopped on the floor, next to a microwave oven. A young man stood in the corner, shifting from one foot to the other. Three teens scrunched on top of a desk. Everyone’s attention was riveted on the slight, soft-spoken man pacing the small patch of bare linoleum in front of them. It was a scene to warm the heart of any musician or stand-up comic. Alas, John Collier isn’t an entertainer. He is a teacher, and this was his third period U.S. history class at Fairfax High School on the city’s Westside. Forty-five students were shoehorned into a classroom designed for perhaps 30 — and this on a day when three students were absent. (more…)

Blog by Staff/Los Angeles Times

Teachers across Los Angeles are pushing to rescind a deal their union leader made that could result in the loss of benefits and work for veteran substitute teachers. Resolutions to cancel the agreement passed overwhelmingly this week at seven of eight local area meetings across the Los Angeles Unified School District, the union has confirmed. The arrangement under challenge was signed in July by district officials and A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. Under it, about 1,800 newly laid-off teachers advanced to the top of the pool of substitutes, jumping over substitutes with more seniority. The goal was to keep well-qualified laid-off teachers working, which also would give them an incentive to remain with the district until they could be rehired, said Duffy and Vivian Ekchian, the district’s chief human resources officer. (more…)

Opinion by Doug Lasken/Los Angeles Daily News
Doug Lasken is a retired LAUSD teacher and freelance writer.

With its recent vote to allow outside operators, including charters, to run new and underperforming schools, the L.A. Unified school board has in effect put itself on record as saying that the district it regulates cannot guarantee a quality education. Considering the source, the public has little choice but to accept this judgment. But, we should not jump from the frying pan into the fire. Charters are not in themselves either better or worse than public schools. They are what the operators, staff, parents and students make them. So it would seem to behoove those in Los Angeles with a stake in education to make sure that the charters are better than the public school they are replacing. (more…)

By Sharon Noguchi/San Jose Mercury News

In the tiny Luther Burbank School District, the office copy/fax machine is on the fritz, the phones go to voice mail for lack of a district secretary and teachers picket after school to protest stalled contract talks. And yet, while some things in the central San Jose school district may be falling apart, eager students are tackling synonyms and long division, and the staff is celebrating test scores that indicate solid academic progress. Three months after a scathing grand jury report questioned its very existence, and seven months after an audit critical of its financial practices, the one-campus district has shakily stayed its course, while the larger political and educational community has responded with a shrug of the shoulders. "It just seems like the board and district are running amok and no one seems to care," said Don Kawashima, foreman of the grand jury that in June suggested board President Antonio Perez step down and the 566-student district merge with a neighbor. (more…)

Chula Vista’s Tessier got one out of U.S. sanctions.
By Chris Moran/San Diego Union-Tribune

Matthew Tessier fixes broken schools. Chula Vista’s Harborside Elementary was in pieces when he arrived as its principal two years ago. The school next to a mobile-home park in an impoverished neighborhood had failed to reach federal benchmarks for so long that the menu of remedies included shutting it down. But Tessier, 35, is a turnaround specialist. Before he arrived at Harborside, Tessier had done what only a few dozen principals in the county had ever done: He led a school — Loma Verde Elementary — safely out of federal sanctions with two consecutive years of dramatically improved test scores. “It starts with leadership,” said Superintendent Lowell Billings of the Chula Vista Elementary School District. “He’s the type of person that inspires greatness.” (more…)

By Jeff Nachtigal/Bakersfield Californian

The fastest growing demographic in Kern County schools — Hispanics — continue to lag behind their white counterparts at school, boding ill not only for themselves but economic growth generally. The track record of one local high school shows it doesn’t have to be that way. In the latest example of the achievement gap, Kern High School District Hispanics scored an average 644 on the Academic Performance Index, 38 points lower than the district average, and 69 points less than the state average for all students. The gap’s been cut in half since 2002, but it has been hovering between 37 and 45 points over the last three years. The disparity in scores is a concern, as Hispanics make up 56 percent of students in the district (second-place whites make up 29 percent). And by 2050, Hispanics are projected to account for 58 percent of the county’s total population, up from 45 percent today. (more…)

The Broad Prize for Urban Education was awarded Wednesday to Aldine, a predominantly minority district.
By Amanda Paulson/Christian Science Monitor

The Aldine, Texas, school district has won the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education this year, and with it $1 million toward scholarships for high school seniors. The prize is given to the urban district that has made the most strides in advancing overall student achievement and in narrowing the achievement gap for minority and low-income students. It’s often looked to as an indicator of which districts are doing things right in tackling some of the most intractable education challenges. Aldine, which serves parts of Houston and unincorporated Harris County, was up for the award for the fourth time. It’s a predominantly minority district. In both reading and math, at all grade levels, Aldine last year outperformed other Texas districts that serve similar family incomes. It also narrowed the achievement gaps between minority students and the state average for white students in middle-school math. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 18, 2009

September 18th, 2009

Themes in the News for the week of September 14-18, 2009

Test Scores Released: Does Near-Certain Failure Improve Motivation?

Last week’s “Themes in the News” focused on President Obama’s speech to students and his motivational call for them to work harder in their classes. Many observers, including students, noted that motivation is difficult to sustain in the face of budget cuts that increase obstacles and barriers to achievement.

This week’s news delivers a hard slap to many students’ and schools’ motivation— having little to do with how hard they work or how well they learn and teach. In brief, many students and schools in California are increasing their performance in spite of some of the most difficult schooling conditions in the country. But according to federal standards, they are failing. Many other schools know with near-certainty that they will fail within the next few years no matter how hard they work.

Test scores released on Tuesday set up this dilemma: The state’s analysis of the California Standards Tests indicates progress, but the federal assessment of the same scores shows a dip in achievement.

The two interpretations give “conflicting and confusing information,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, because they provide different lenses to measure progress (San Francisco Chronicle).

The state uses the test scores and other measures to calculate a number between 200 and 1000 for each school. This Academic Performance Index (API), as it’s called, is designed to highlight academic improvement. This year, 42 percent of kindergarten through 12th grades reached an API of at least 800, up from 36 percent last year (Ventura County Star).

On the other hand, the federal system measures whether schools have achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which, this year, equates to having 45 percent of more of the student body score at the proficient level in math and English (San Francisco Chronicle). The percentage of proficient scores needed for a school to meet AYP goals rises every year. This year 51 percent of California schools met AYP goals, 1 percent lower than last year. High schools fell from 49 percent reaching AYP last year to 37 percent this year (Ventura County Star).

The differences in the two systems of measurement mean that some schools seem to be both improving and failing. At Spreckels Elementary School near San Diego, the API score has shot up 27 points in the last year, but AYP goals were not met (San Diego Union-Tribune).

The fact that schools are struggling to meet AYP is no surprise, according to IDEA director John Rogers. “The obstacles have been increasing. It’s not strange that each year there are more schools in PI [Program Improvement] status, because every year it’s getting harder for them,” he said (La Opinión). If a school remains on the Program Improvement watch list for five years, it could face restructuring or closure (San Francisco Chronicle).

Top Stories and Commentary for Friday, September 18, 2009

By Alyson Klein/Education Week

As the U.S. Department of Education prepares to throw $3 billion in one-time money on the table to improve perennially foundering schools, a gulf is emerging between what federal officials would like to see done with the funds and what many districts say is their capacity—and inclination—to deliver. While some districts say the federal largesse and direction will help advance improvement strategies already under way, others warn that the department’s vision, as outlined in regulations proposed last month, leaves little room for local prerogative. And some district officials—particularly in small, rural areas—worry that the regulations now being finalized may be tough to implement given the dearth of organizations and individuals with expertise in turning around low-performing schools nationwide. (more…)

By Steven Sawchuk/Education Week

The National Education Association plans to put $6 million over six years into "comprehensive strategies and policies to increase teacher effectiveness in high-needs schools." The funds will be focused on four strategies outlined in this paper, authored by Barnett Berry, the president of the Hillsborough, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality. Among Berry’s major recommendations, states and districts should focus on comprehensive initiatives to lure teachers to hard-to-staff schools and ensure that they grow in effectiveness while there. In other words, don’t just stick performance pay in alone and expect it to work. Berry puts it this way: "Pay incentives, however will always be a partial solution. Incentives tied to working conditions and professional opportunities will be at least as important, if not more so. (more…)

Math test scores soar if students are given the chance to struggle.
By Bernice Yeung/Edutopia

New Jersey teachers have found a surprising way to keep students engaged and successful: They let underachieving youngsters get frustrated by math. While working with minority and low-income students at low-performing schools in Newark for the past seven years, researchers at Rutgers University have found that allowing students to struggle with challenging math problems can lead to dramatically improved achievement and test scores. "We’ve found there is a healthy amount of frustration that’s productive; there is a satisfaction after having struggled with it," says Roberta Schorr, associate professor in Rutgers University at Newark’s Urban Education Department. Her group has also found that, though conventional wisdom says certain abilities are innate, a lot of kids’ talents and abilities go unnoticed unless they are effectively challenged; the key is to do it in a nurturing environment. (more…)

Also Noted for Friday, September 18, 2009:

By Loretta Kalb/Sacramento Bee

The Natomas Unified School District on Thursday sued two development firms, alleging the district vastly overpaid for a 41-acre school site and demanding repayment of some of the money. Natomas Unified executed a $13.3 million sales contract in late 2006 with AKT Investments Inc. and West Lakeside LLC, headed by developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos. "We would like to reclaim the $10.4 million we overpaid for the land and, with that, all of the expenses," school board President Teri Burns said Thursday. "That would be the base (we seek), and anything else the judge and jury find appropriate to make us whole." The lawsuit follows nearly two years of district angst and taxpayer anger over reports, initially in The Bee, that the district appeared to have overpaid for the property, on which a high school is planned. (more…)

By Jennifer Medina/New York Times

With more than 1,500 existing teachers on the city’s payroll without permanent job placements, the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, has told principals that if they do not fill those jobs by the end of next month, they will lose any money they had allocated for their teacher vacancies. Principals across the city have resisted hiring teachers from the so-called absent reserve pool, in which teachers are placed if they lose their posts when a school is shut down or forced to shrink its teaching staff because of budget cuts or declining enrollments. Though the pool has shrunk to about 1,500 teachers, from 1,983 about three weeks ago, it would still cost the department roughly $127 million this year. By forcing principals to fill the remaining 1,050 vacancies in the system from the existing pool, education officials expect to save about $75 million. (more…)

By Catherine Gewertz/Education Week

A lot of hope is riding on a little document in the big state of Texas. Educators and policymakers who have long agonized over the Lone Star State’s low college-going rate and its high remediation rate are charting a course they hope will lead to better outcomes. And they’re using that document—the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards—as a key navigating tool. At 43 pages, the standards for college and career readiness are dwarfed by the state’s 480-page core curriculum, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. But slim as they are, the readiness standards pack a hefty punch. While the TEKS describe what students must know to finish high school, the readiness standards lay out what they must master to thrive in college. (more…)

By Gary Scharrer/Houston Chronicle

State Board of Education members surely will have lots of questions today when experts responsible for the first draft of new history curriculum standards appear before them. Why replace Christmas with a Buddhist holiday for study in sixth grade social studies? Why downgrade Cesar Chávez from a “citizenship” role model to a “reformer?” Why focus specifically on politically conservative heroes, but not liberal ones? Today’s meeting is an early step toward modernizing social studies curriculum standards last updated in 1998. The 15-member State Board of Education is not expected to take a final vote until next spring. The new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards will determine classroom instruction, textbooks, and tests for the next 10 years. (more…)

By Chet Brokaw/USA Today

Carol Moran spent all she could spare on new school clothes for her 15-year-old daughter. Then she found out a new dress code had been imposed at the junior high school that serves the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Moran, who walks with a cane and survives on welfare in one of most impoverished regions in the U.S., said buying a whole new set of clothes is out of the question. Her daughter, Kyann, already has been sent home twice for violating the dress code since school started two weeks ago. "It was just like a slap in the face," Moran said. Unexpected school expenses can stress any parent. But for many with students in the Cheyenne-Eagle Butte School District, finding gas money or a ride to an affordable store can prove all but impossible, much less paying for the clothes if they get there. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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September 17, 2009

September 17th, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Thursday, September 17, 2009

By Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

Counselor Frank Zavala tries to break the news to high schoolers gently, but sometimes it’s just too late. There’s no way they can rack up the classes they need to even apply to the University of California system or the California State schools. "I found myself having to tell kids that college is an option — but for them, their first step is junior college," said Zavala, who works at Lincoln High in southeastern San Diego. It happens more often than he wished. Lincoln High has been dogged by a rumor that it is impossible for students to get the classes they need for the California universities. That’s a myth: Teens can tough out intermediate algebra and other necessary classes at Lincoln. But the reality is still worrisome. While nearly three out of every four classes at Lincoln pass muster with the public universities, only 16 percent of Lincoln graduates have actually earned the grades and the classes they need to apply to the University of California San Diego or other public universities, according to the most recently available data. (more…)

Black children continue to lag on state tests; African American educators meet to push a plan.
By Cynthia Griffin/Our Weekly

An Accountability Progress Report (APR) report released Tuesday by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell found that “California schools are continuing to make solid gains in academic achievement. For the seventh year in a row, schools at every level have made real progress toward the statewide API (Academic Performance Index) of 800, and almost half of our elementary schools have met or exceeded this goal,” said the superintendent. He went on to add, “The API results also show a slight narrowing of the achievement gap that historically has left Hispanic or Latino and African American students trailing behind their peers who are White or Asian.” The APR includes the state API as well as the federal No Child Left Behind accountability system—Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and Program Improvement (PI). Both the API and AYP are based on statewide tests results from the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR) and the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). (more…)

Editorial/San Jose Mercury News

The side-by-side stories at the top of Wednesday’s Mercury News front page formed a conundrum. "Valley’s uptick eclipses state" brought the refreshing news that Silicon Valley appears to be leading California in economic recovery. But the story next to it portended trouble for the future: South Bay Latino and black children lag in school performance compared to their counterparts in the rest of the state as well as to white and Asian students. One of this region’s greatest assets in attracting and keeping jobs is its highly educated work force. If we lose that edge, then economic decline is inevitable. Companies will go where they can find entry level workers capable of doing the job. Latinos and African Americans make up four out of 10 students in Santa Clara County. Preparing the next generation work force in Silicon Valley must mean educating the growing minority populations. (more…)

Blog by Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

State senators listened to clashing views about whether President Obama has the right plan to reform schools in a public hearing today at the University of San Diego. The hearing was centered on whether San Diego Unified and other local districts are ready for Race to the Top, a second batch of stimulus dollars that the federal government is awarding on a competitive basis, and only to school districts that meet specific requirements. One of those requirements, that states not bar schools from linking test scores to teacher or principal evaluations, has spurred heated debate in the world school reform. Teachers unions are wary of that move because it seems to open the door for merit pay, an idea that they staunchly oppose. Lawmakers have approved a bill allowing test scores and evaluations to be linked, which could make the state eligible for the federal funds. (more…)

Blog by Bunny Mensinger/San Francisco Examiner

States throughout the country are taking a stand: they are ending the practice of sending students on to the next grade if they are below grade level in reading or outright failing their classes. Potentially, the end of social promotion is upon us. The practice of social promotion (passing students on to the next grade to remain in their peer-group) has come under scrutiny as test scores nation-wide continue to plummet, and students come out of high school grossly undereducated. In California, as was previously reported in Examiner.com, state test scores show that fifty percent of high school freshmen statewide are lacking the English skills to be proficient at their grade level, yet these students are continually being moved to the next grade level regardless of their skill level or their grade in a class. (more…)

By Maureen Magee/San Diego Union-Tribune

When the California PTA asked parents what one thing they would change about schools, the answer included a wish list of art and music education, additional books and an infusion of cash. All great suggestions. But none are as effective — or affordable — as parent involvement. So says the PTA in its new public service campaign, launched yesterday at Kearny High School in San Diego. The statewide effort includes videos that feature parents offering unscripted accounts of volunteering in schools and helping children at home. The PTA plans to air the spots on school district Web sites throughout the state, on YouTube and on television. Parents, educators and supporters rallied around the campaign yesterday to encourage mothers, fathers and grandparents to take a more active role in the daily education of the children. The message comes amid tough financial times, when many family members are taking on second jobs, giving them less time to help out at school. (more…)

Also Noted for Thursday, September 17, 2009:

Blog by Seema Mehta/Los Angeles Times

The Long Beach Unified School District failed to capture the top prize of $1 million in college scholarships when the Broad Prize was announced this morning at the U.S. Capitol. But the district received $250,000 in scholarships for the class of 2010 as one of five finalists. The Broad Prize honors excellence in urban education in the nation’s largest school districts. The Aldine Independent School District near Houston captured the top award. "Long Beach continues to be America’s crowned jewel of urban school districts, outperforming other urban districts year after year with its steady gains," said Eli Broad, founder of the prize, in a written statement. "We look forward to sharing Long Beach’s ongoing best practices with school districts across the nation so millions more students benefit from the smart efforts that have arisen there." (more…)

The Broad Foundation labels Long Beach School District as America’s ‘crowned jewel’.
By Rubén Moreno/La Opinión (text in Spanish)

To be considered one of the five best urban districts in the country is an ambitious undertaking when 70% of the student body comes from low-income families and one of every 4 children has difficulty learning English. These challenges are similar to those faced by most districts in southern California; but only in Long Beach, where a district of 87,000 students attend school - half of them Latinos - do they know what it means to be in this situation for the fifth time.< (more…)

By Kevin Butler/Long Beach Press-Telegram

A Hawaiian Gardens elementary school had its state accountability results thrown out this year after the ABC Unified School District found that a teacher had inappropriately coached students while they took standardized tests, officials said Wednesday. As a result of the alleged cheating, Furgeson Elementary, located at 22215 Elaine Ave., this year did not receive an Academic Performance Index score as part of the state school accountability system. The score, based on a set of standardized tests, serves as a barometer of student achievement and determines whether a school has met its academic growth targets for the year. In addition, Furgeson will be ineligible for two years for state performance awards like the California Distinguished School Award, according to John Boivin, administrator for the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program Office at the California Department of Education. (more…)

By Lisa Schiff/Beyond Chron

San Francisco Unified School District’s (SFUSD) student assignment redesign effort turned a corner on Monday when three alternative plans were presented to the Board of Education’s Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment. The contending options, still with many significant aspects to be fleshed out, were offered up within the context of a significant review of how the current system is designed and its effects, the priorities of the Board of Education (BOE) and an extensive demographic analysis of San Francisco’s children and schools, provided by Lapkoff & Gobalet Demographic Research, Inc. Materials used to present and develop the proposals are all available on the SFUSD website and those who couldn’t make the meeting can view it online. (more…)

Federal recognition is just one measure of school quality.
By Fermin Leal/Orange County Register

National Blue Ribbon awards are often called the "Oscars" for schools. The selection process can be very competitive, somewhat subjective, and winners carry the title with them for the rest of eternity. But for schools, other measurements – including tests scores, graduation rates, the quality of college and career preparation programs – also help identify the ones that do the best job of educating children. "Winning a Blue Ribbon is a tremendous honor," said Lucinda Nares-Clare, the principal at Middle College High in Santa Ana, which was awarded a Blue Ribbon on Tuesday. To qualify in California, schools must score in the top 10 percent statewide over the past three years on the Academic Performance Index, or in other standardized tests for private schools. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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